The Conversion Bureau: Rise Again

by kildeez

Chapter 3: Chapter III: An Old Enemy

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“The replanting of the Amazon basin is proceeding as planned,” Blueblood droned, tapping a hoof right in the center of the map of South America. “Like in many of the forested areas, soil erosion had filled in most of the valley due to mass dissipation of local flora. Unfortunately, it looks like the river itself won’t be clear for years.”

“Uh huh,” Luna yawned.

“On the plus side, I got a report from the team in…uh…’Mishy-gan’?”

“That’s ‘Michigan’,” Luna corrected, twirling a balled up wad of paper around her hoof in her magic.

“Right, our team in Michigan says the effort to preserve human technology is progressing fairly well: many of the Ford plants are still in good condition. I guess it does help that nopony…I’m sorry, nobody…has been running them for a while. Plus, the lack of local fauna certainly helps.”

“Fascinating,” Luna intoned. “Is that all?”

“There…er…was one thing in the report,” the prince replied, scratching at his mane. “There was an incident at one of the plants. It appears as though there was a chemical explosion.”

Luna’s eyebrows arched. “Was…anyone hurt?” She asked, sitting up, already dreading the answer.

Blueblood shook his head. “Not a soul, Princess, not a single pony. According to witnesses, the vehicles inside suddenly tore off the assembly line and formed a protective barrier around the ponies, shielding them from the worst of it. Sprinkler systems and some of the mounted robots evidently doused the flames.”

Luna stared at Blueblood. Blueblood blinked. Luna took a breath, considered, and let it out again, then apparently reconsidered and took another breath. “I’m sorry, dearest nephew, but I thought you just told me the cars protected the ponies.”

“Y-yes, Princess.”

Luna blinked again. “Nephew, we are not going to pretend to possess even a fundamental understanding of human technology, but we are quite certain they had yet to discover artificial intelligence, and we are even more certain that they wouldn’t have implemented such technology in their vehicles, nor that said intelligence would have possessed the altruistic characteristics required to place itself in danger for the sake of others.”

“Yes Princess, we actually expected some disbelief on your part,” Blueblood said, then he stomped his hoof a few times. A pair of guardstallions wheeled a large, black box with a glass screen into the room, the screen supported on a wheeled cart and seated atop another black box, both labelled “Sony.”

“We have here security footage from the plant parking lot,” Blueblood said, fiddling with a few buttons on the glass box’s front. He held one end of the plug leading into it up to his horn, a few sparks jumping from him into the wires. A few seconds later, the large box hummed to life, white snow fizzling on the glass while a flashing “12:00” appeared on the smaller box. “Hold on,” Blueblood grunted, biting the inside of his cheek as he fiddled with the buttons on the front, his teeth biting harder and harder until finally, he just gave it a good whack against the side with his hoof.

The white snow flickered, and finally disappeared, revealing a massive parking lot with a time code in the corner, all in grainy black-and-white. The lot dominated a full half of the screen, dozens of cars parked door-to-door, waiting for owners that would never come. Ye gods, ‘tis almost like seeing a basket of abandoned puppies, she mused. While the assorted pickups, sedans, and convertibles (the latter mostly in executive spaces) might not have possessed the same inherent adorableness as a basket of puppies, it didn’t make the image of those metal hulks rusting away while waiting for their masters any less depressing.

On the other half of the screen was a covered walkway leading to a set of glass doors, a trio of ponies trotting along and conversing as they approached. To Luna, it appeared as banal a scene as could be possible, the construction ponies chatting amicably as they walked, toolboxes and lunch pails balanced on their backs. She cocked an eyebrow at her nephew as she watched, noted his struggles with keeping the device powered, and promptly sent a little help his way, taking over the power output with ease, even copying the young prince’s magical power signatures to avoid overloading the device.

Blueblood, for his part, looked up in confusion at the stress suddenly lifting off his magic, then noticed the glow on his aunt’s horn. She smiled at him, obviously completely unfazed from the effort to keep the device powered. “We take it we should be seeing something shortly?” Luna asked with a kind, little smile.

“Y-yes,” Blueblood replied, stunned with the ease his aunt had adapted to producing power for the “Sony”. “Just keep watching, it’s around the 8:35 mark.”

Luna nodded, her brow furrowing as she focused on the screen. True to Blueblood’s word, a few seconds after the numbers in the corner flickered to 8:35, some of the cars’ headlights started flashing. Intrigued now, Luna leaned forward in her seat, her hooves settling on the table’s edge. The construction ponies on the pathway had all stopped, turning curiously at the phantom headlights. One of them, however, just shrugged his shoulders and continued walking. Luna could see him mouthing “I’ll catcha inside” to the ponies behind him as he walked away.

Suddenly, she saw steam rise from the front tires of one of the vehicles: a massive, gray thing with rust along its rear wheel well and an extended engine block that gave it a surprisingly pony-like snout. Over the course of a few frames, it bounced over the concrete barrier at the head of its parking space, bounded over the grass bordering the walkway, and slammed into the glass doors just ten feet in front of the lead pony, wrecking itself against the door frame. The wreck completely blocked the doors, forming a barrier of twisted metal and shattered glass. The lead pony fell onto his rump, scooching away in fear, his friends just staring, jaws agape. A split-second later, the screen flickered and a massive fireball reared up out of another wing of the factory, the ponies’ eyes all darting between the ruined front door and the tongues of flame ripping up into the sky, as if they couldn’t figure out which to focus on. Luna watched the flames as the cars all rocked on their suspensions from the force of the blast, then her eyes also drifted to the wrecked car. She paused, then with a quick exertion of magic, rewound the footage, keeping her eyes on the machine from the tape’s beginning right up until it suddenly roared to life and slammed itself into the doorway.

“Auntie?” Blueblood asked, trying not to sound too awestruck by the way Luna had taken all of five minutes to master the human machine (which was nothing, since in another twenty minutes she would master that most forbidden of skills and figure out how to get the flashing “12:00” to go away).

“It’s…impossible…” she whispered, but there it was. The driver’s seat of the large, gray car was completely empty. She could just see the edge of the polyester seat over the lip of the driver’s side door. Absolutely empty.

Except…hold on…what was that flicker she saw? Distortion on the tape?

She rewound again, going through the footage frame-by-frame. It didn’t take her long to find what she was looking for. For just a moment, no more than two frames, she could make out something in the window, something that might be a trick of the light off the window, or…

“Is…” Blueblood blinked, rubbing his eyes and shaking his head before glaring at the screen. “Is that a…human?”

There was no mistaking it. Now that Luna could see it, she could tell there definitely was a human sitting in the driver’s seat, safety glasses wrapped around his head, a long, white beard on his face, and a yellow safety vest wrapped around his body, just like the ones the ponies working in the plants were made to wear, just like the humans working on the line had worn.

Luna pointed at the screen. “Get me employee records; find me pictures of everyone working at that plant before it shut down.” Fast-forwarding again, she paused the camera at a point right when the vehicle slammed into the walkway, when its back had reared up off its wheels and exposed its license plate to the camera. “Start with the human that owned this car, use DMV records, find me a picture of whoever drove it, ASAP!”

“Y-yes princess,” Blueblood said, hurriedly gathering his things. He took off out the door at a dead gallop, trailing papers behind him before it slammed shut. Luna sighed and sank into her seat, massaging her temples as her mind trailed over the events of the last few weeks. To think, she had thought things would be boring with the loss of humanity. Nothing to do but go through the empty remnants of their cities, preserving what they could and hunting down any treasures that would keep their memory alive for as long as possible. But now there were these apparently possessed machines in Michigan, which could be added to the Newfoal pegasi that had fought off an entire pack of manticores outside Manehattan while singing “Highway to the Danger Zone” at the top of their lungs, and the muggers her guard had discovered one night with their tails pinned to a concrete wall, their manes turned white, and screaming about the Newfoal that “wouldn’t stop giggling…” over and over again.

She pulled her face out of her hooves. If only her sister would come out of her room, she couldn’t handle this madness 24/7! “Can this get any weirder?” She mused, then quickly rammed a hoof in her mouth when she realized what she’d said. She usually wasn’t a superstitious pony, and never believed in tempting fate actually causing something to happen, but recent events had rekindled that ancient spark within her.

Her breath caught in her throat as the door creaked open. Oh dearest Faust above, what would walk through? A newly-sapient hydra asking to be made a citizen? A Newfoal with an encyclopedic knowledge of every plant in the kingdom? Or perhaps…

No, it was just one of her sister’s guards. She sighed in relief as the stallion clomped in, his armor clanking noisily, a spear hitting the ground with every step, like a walking stick. She watched him as he approached the table, her relief slowly giving way to wariness. She backed away from the table, her wings quivering in anticipation of some attack. “Yes, guard?” She asked.

The guard stood at the other side of the table, his helmet pulled low over his eyes. After a few minutes of deep silence, his voice came in a dry rasp: “Okay, you win, just please stop it.”

Luna arched an eyebrow. “I’m sorry?”

The guard lifted his chin, and Luna’s eyes widened at the flicker of green that passed through the shadow under his helmet. Before she could react, he disappeared in a flash of green flames, and in his place stood a creature Luna had only heard about, and had dreaded meeting.

“Chrysalis!” Luna reared up, her wings flaring out as her hooves slammed onto the table. “Thou art a fool for appearing before us! Thy…”

Without another word, the changeling queen reached up with a black, hole-filled hoof, plucked the crown out of her tangled, aquamarine mane, and tossed it onto the table. It landed on its side, rolled for a while, bumped off Luna’s hoof, and settled. The princess stared at it in shock, and then her eyes lifted to the changeling. She finally noticed the deep bags under the queen’s eyes, the haggard way her chest rose and fell with each breath, the exhausted but determined look in her face.

“You. Win.” Chrysalis said. “Okay, you win! I give up! Just make it stop, please!”

“I…don’t…” Luna started to say, her mind reeling. She had expected the first time she met Chrysalis face-to-face to result in an instant battle, but this…what was this, even!?

“Don’t play coy! I don’t know how you ponies managed to gain total control of nature, but that’s the only way to explain it! My changelings can’t even set hoof outside the hive without being struck by lightning, or buried in a landslide, or hit by a falling tree! I don’t know how, but you’ve done it! You’ve isolated us!” She fell to her haunches, tears welling in her eyes. “But that wasn’t enough for you, was it!?”

“I…what?” Luna finally managed.

Chrysalis just continued, as if she hadn’t heard. “No, you had to send them too,” a shiver raced up her back, as if the mere thought of them was enough to send her into a panic, to make her want to flare out her wings and just fly away.

Luna paused, then eased back, circling the table and approaching Chrysalis as one would approach a scared rabbit. “I’m sorry, who are ‘they,’ Chrysalis? What has happened to you?”

As if to answer her question, a high-pitched, funny little voice called from the hallway: “Oh, Chrysiiieeeee!

Chrysalis shot to her hooves, her eyes darting wildly to the door. “Oh God, it found me!” She cried.

Luna leapt between the changeling and the door, her protective instincts kicking in before she even knew what she was doing. Her wings flared out like a shield, and she lowered her head, her horn glowing with power, ready to do battle with anything, even Tirek and Sombra teaming up.

Anything, that was, but a Newfoal with light brown hair, a cutie-mark of a musical note, and one of those big, empty grins on his face. Luna watched, her horn doused and her eyebrows hunching, as the Newfoal looked around, his grin widening even further when he spotted Chrysalis through the gaps in Luna’s feathers. “There you are!” He said cheerfully.

“No…no…” Chrysalis gasped, a series of gasping, choked-off sobs wracking her form.

“I almost lost you that time, but don’t worry,” the Newfoal said, his smile somehow growing even wider, almost to a point where Luna swore it could only be sheer malice still fuelling it. “The voices told me where you are. The voices always tell me where you are. I’ll never lose you. Never. Because that’s who we are.

At that, Chrysalis darted around Luna’s body, her horn crackling with power as green lightning shot right at the Newfoal. For a moment, he vanished behind a puff of smoke and a thunderous crack of pure power, Chrysalis keeping her green, cat-like eyes locked on the puff. Luna reared on her. “Chrysalis! Thou hast just assaulted one of our own…”

“Oh, that was mean,” the Newfoal’s voice returned. Luna’s jaw dropped as he emerged from the smoke, completely unscathed by an attack that should have ended his life.

Chrysalis stepped back, her jaw working up and down in horror. “No,” she murmured. “No…”

“I mean, is that the way you treat your friends, Chryssie?” He asked, his lower lip quivering as his eyes widened to puppy-size. “Oh, hold on, I know what’ll cheer you up! Your favorite lullaby!”

Chrysalis’s eyes widened in horror. “No,” she gasped. “No, not that, anything but that…please!”

Ignoring her, the Newfoal took a deep breath, and belted out in as loud and off-key a manner as he could: “This is the song that never eennnndddsss! Yes, it goes on and on, my frieeennnndd!

Chrysalis screeched, her fangs exposed, her hooves clamping over her ears as she slammed her head repeatedly against the table, as if hearing the song and processing its words were the worst pain imaginable. “Two weeks…” she gasped, her abdomen bucking in the air as if she were being shocked. “Two weeks, every night, no sleep! Two weeks…”

Some people…starrrted singing it not knowing what it was! And they’ll continue singing it forever just because this is the song that never eennnndddsss…

“My kingdom!” Chrysalis screamed, throwing herself at Luna’s hooves. “My crown! Every single one of my subjects as your slaves! Anything you want, princess! Just please, make it stop, make it stop, please…”

Chrysalis descended into a babbling, blubbering mess, sobbing as the Princess embraced her, her cries still not drowning out the voice of the Newfoal as it continued: “Yes it goes on and on, my frieeeeeennndds! Some people, started singing it not knowing what it was…

Next Chapter: Chapter IV: Rediscovery Estimated time remaining: 30 Minutes
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